A baby born prematurely – medically classified as prior to the 37th week of gestation – is at risk of certain medical competitions that could prove to be minor or serious. Among those complications is low birth weight. Being born at a lower weight is common for premature babies due to the simple fact that they do not have enough time to fully develop in the mother’s womb. The good news is that low premature baby weight is not as serious today as it used to be for previous generations.
A baby is clinically diagnosed as having low birth weight if his or her weight at birth is less than 5.5 pounds (2.5 kg). Statistics show that roughly 60% of the babies born in the UK every year exhibit low birth weight. However, not all of them are born prematurely. Only about 10% fall under the premature category.
If your baby is born prematurely, the chances of low birth weight are extremely high. But this is not necessarily a cause for concern. As long as your baby demonstrates the ability to put on weight in the weeks following birth, no serious complications should arise. Furthermore, your child will likely catch up to his or her peers by the time school starts.
For the premature baby, weight is an important factor for measuring current and future development. This should be obvious due to the fact that preterm babies do not have as much time to put on weight before birth. What is more important to doctors and midwives is whether a premature baby puts on weight after birth. Weight gain is often associated with something known as ‘ability to thrive’.
The ability to thrive is a combination of gradual weight gain, physical development, and the ability to feed properly. If a premature baby is not gaining weight, it could be due to the fact that he or she either cannot breastfeed properly or his/her digestive system is not properly processing the food provided. This is cause for concern. A lack of weight gain suggests that a premature baby may not be physically developing as the healthcare team would expect him/her to.
Promoting weight gain often comes down to what the premature baby is fed. In an ideal situation, doctors and midwives prefer the baby’s diet consist mainly of breast milk provided by mum. Depending on how early a baby is born, breastfeeding may or may not be possible. When it is not, mum can still express her milk using an electric or manual pump; that milk can then be fed to the baby by other means.
Why do doctors and nurses prefer breast milk? A mother’s breastmilk is often referred to as ‘liquid gold’ for the baby because it contains nutrients, growth factors, extra fat, and other things babies need to gain weight and thrive. Furthermore, breast milk is much easier to digest and process the infant formula. Healthcare teams will do everything they can to make sure the premature baby gets as much breast milk as possible. In cases where mum cannot produce enough milk on her own, donor milk provided by a hospital-based milk bank may be used to supplement.
It is quite common for babies to lose some weight in the days immediately following birth. The reason is simple: while still connected via the umbilical cord, the baby is receiving the maximum amount of nutritional benefit directly from mum’s body. Separation from the umbilical cord changes things. It takes a while for the baby’s body to adapt to feeding after birth. Having said that, most babies will gain enough weight to match their birth weight within 14 days.
A premature baby is weighed at regular intervals to make sure he or she is gaining weight. Provided there are no complications, weight gain should come as naturally to the premature baby as it does to the full-term baby. Parents will be expected to continue weighing their baby at regular intervals upon taking him or her home until the healthcare team is satisfied that the child demonstrates a sufficient ability to thrive.
Doctors and midwives use what is known as a centile chart to track a baby’s progress in this area. Centile charts simply use statistical data to compare babies in terms of their age, weight, and size. Let’s just say your baby comes in at the 50th centile where weight is concerned. That doesn’t mean your child is only half as heavy as he or she should be. It means that your baby would place 50th, in terms of weight, when compared to 100 children of similar age and length.
It is very normal for premature babies to be in different centiles for weight and length. However, any excessive differences should reconcile themselves as your baby grows and develops. By the time your child reaches the toddler stage, centile comparisons for both weight and length should be similar.
Premature baby weight is a concern, especially for babies born between the 25th and 28th week. Healthcare teams will monitor weight to make sure the premature baby is gaining, which will be the case most of the time. As the parent of a premature baby, understand that there should be no serious consequences of low birth weight as long as your child properly feeds and gains as a result. Your child will catch up with his or her peers over many years of growth and development.
Should low birth weight present a serious complication for the premature baby, medical science knows just what to do. Healthcare teams will utilise proven treatment methods to help baby gain weight, thrive appropriately, and grow into healthy, productive child.